LSU-Eunice workers stole federal funds
LAFAYETTE — Two former employees of LSU-Eunice were sentenced Thursday to federal prison terms for stealing tens of thousands of dollars in federal money meant to help students pay for a college education.
Marvette Thomas, 60, the former director of the Office of Academic Assistance, received a 14-month sentence.
Carra Sergent, also 60 and Thomas’ former assistant at the two-year college, will spend 12 months and a day in a federal correctional facility.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote handed down the sentences. Both women will begin serving their sentences next year at federal prisons yet to be determined.
Thomas will report Feb. 12, and Sergent on Jan. 30.
Foote said Thomas and Sergent had been trusted employees who abused the system. Speaking to Thomas, Foote said, “You betrayed that trust.”
“It is with remorse and extreme regret that I address this court this morning,” Thomas said. “I am truly sorry.”
Thomas and Sergent were charged with one count each of stealing funds from an institution that receives more than $10,000 in grants from the federal government, money that’s supposed to help students.
The pair pleaded guilty Aug. 8 to stealing $159,132 over 3½ years.
Foote ordered each to share restitution responsibilities in repaying LSU-Eunice.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Myers Naime said LSU-Eunice had to repay the federal government the amount stolen by the pair. He said the school also lost access to some of the federal programs.
The money came from two U.S. Department of Education programs: Upward Bound and the Student Support Service Program, both of which help poor students pay for college.
“LSU is not happy, and I don’t blame them,” Naime said.
Naime noted that the crime was pulled off over years by two LSU-Eunice employees who bought items for themselves. Each transaction needed a phony receipt to keep the scheme active.
Foote said a mitigating factor in her decision to sentence Thomas less than the 18 to 24 months suggested by federal guidelines was that Thomas has lost her status in the community. Foote also noted that prior to the funds theft, Thomas led a crime-free life.
“Miss Thomas is a person who sought the approval of her community,” Foote said, including being a member of a church in Eunice and a sorority.
“These things have been taken from her,” Foote said.